I believe that for most people, cutting expenses is the most important key to reaching financial goals as quickly as possible. Basically, the idea is to make the difference between what you earn and what you spend as large as possible in order to put the difference towards your goals (paying off debt, buying a house, saving for retirement, whatever floats your boat…) There are two ways to do that: you can either increase the amount you earn, or you can decrease the amount you spend. Both will have the same effect in terms of increasing the amount you have to put towards your goals. But I believe that decreasing expenses is easier and can be done faster (immediate gratification is always nice).
If you’re looking to cut expenses, here are my favorite ideas – things that have worked for us:
- Drive an old car. (or take this a step further and ride a bike instead of having a car) My car is 19 years old, my husband’s is 20. They are both going strong. We bought my car from the original owner in 2003, and paid $2300. We have only had to do a couple of minor repairs on it over the years. BONUS: driving an old car means that you can just purchase liability auto insurance. The savings we get from not having comp/collision on our cars allows us to purchase far more than the state minimums in terms of liability insurance. I’d rather be well covered in that regard.
- Find the least expensive housing that meets your needs, rather than the best/most expensive house that will fit into your budget. If your house payment is 40 or 50% of your income, it doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for other things.
- Don’t shop as a form of entertainment. Anytime that spending money is involved, make sure it’s with a clear purpose.
- Cook from scratch. There are millions of recipes out there in cyberspace. Anyone can cook, it just takes a little faith in yourself and a few google searches.
- Challenge yourself to find everything you need secondhand. The list of things that we buy new is extremely short (underwear, socks, consumables… that’s pretty much it) Thrift stores, yard sales, and Craigs List are great resources. Use them! But only if you actually need something. The rule about shopping as a form of entertainment applies here too.
- If you have kids, don’t believe all the hype about everything that you “must have” for them. They really don’t need much. Provide food, health insurance, shelter, discipline, exercise, and love, and things will work out just fine.
I’ve been reading several websites lately that are devoted to the idea of living with as little “stuff” as possible, and focusing on experiences rather than things. Obviously I have no desire to live with only what will fit in a backpack, since we’re focused right now on our goal of growing most of our own food (shovels don’t fit in backpacks). But I have found myself very inspired to get rid of stuff, not purchase anything else (which helps to keep expenses down), and generally lead a clutter-free, simple life. Check out these sites and see if you find any inspiration:
I have always been a pretty frugal person. But I’m finding myself drawn towards the ideal of having only what we need and the things that truly bring us joy. I find that the tenets of minimalism go along nicely with my own efforts at keeping our expenses as low as possible in order to reach our financial goals as quickly as possible. Hopefully you’ll find some inspiration here too.